Salvation Army moves families at Centennial Campground to Anchorage shelters

A wagon with a painted cardboard sign that says "Lost $ everything need cash" and two tents in the background
Tents at Centennial Campground on June 27, 2022 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Salvation Army reports that 34 people staying at the Centennial Campground in Anchorage have moved into shelters or permanent housing. It took over on-site client care — including connecting people to housing and other services – last Tuesday and prioritized moving families into more permanent shelter.

The youngest child at the camp last week was 2 days old, said Salvation Army Capt. Denice Delgado.

“When we found out there was an actual baby here, we immediately got them out of here,” she said.

As of Friday, there were no more children at the Centennial camp, according to the Salvation Army. Four families had moved into McKinnell House, which is run by the Salvation Army, and Clare House, which is run by Catholic Social Services. 

Delgado said the fact that the Salvation Army already runs a family shelter helped simplify the process. McKinnell House is the only shelter in the state open to single fathers and their children, she said.

The Salvation Army also reported that it helped two people reconnect with family members and they’re returning home – one to St. Paul Island and one to Texas. Ten people are set to join a workforce development program run by Bean’s Café.

Delgado said not all of the campers are interested in moving into shelters or permanent housing. She said mental health challenges and alcohol or drug dependence are often barriers.

“Some people just want to be left alone,” she said. “Some people honest to goodness want to be here. They don’t want to cooperate, and a lot of that has to do with mental health. That’s huge. And then you’ve got individuals who are inebriated or have an addiction. And you can’t force them into treatment, they’ve got to choose it for their own.”

On Friday, Salvation Army volunteers counted 110 people at the campground. Sunday’s count brought the tally to 143. Delgado said the number of people staying at the camp is constantly changing.

The city opened up the campground to homeless people a month ago, around the same time that it cleared a large camp in the Mountain View neighborhood and closed the Sullivan Arena shelter. 

On Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly voted down a measure that would’ve allowed the city parks director to extend the legal camping limit past 14 days. It’s too soon to say whether that will significantly impact the number of people who choose to stay at Centennial Campground, but Delgado says the Salvation Army will be there as long as it’s needed.

“We’ll still be here,” she said. “We’re not under contract, we have no obligation to be here, but we stepped in because there’s a need and we’ll continue to do that as long as possible.”

The Salvation Army is asking the public for donations, especially men’s clothing. They’ve also asked for men’s and women’s sweatshirts and sweatpants, bus passes and gas vouchers. 

They ask that people drop off items at McKinnell House at 1712 A Street in Anchorage rather than at the campground so they can keep an inventory of donations and ensure there’s adequate storage space on site.

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